Red Sox minor league roundup: Why this year is another Henry Owens breakthrough; Trey Ball gets on track; Rubby De La Rosa rocked in return

July 02, 2014 - 8:06 am
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Tuesday: TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-3 LOSS VS. DURHAM (RAYS) (BOX) -- Rubby De La Rosa gave up as many runs -- four -- in his first inning back in Triple-A as he did in any of his five big league starts this year. Yet after three singles (none well struck), a double, a wild pitch and a sac fly spotted his opponents to four runs in the first inning, the right-hander settled to allow one run over the duration of his outing, ultimately pitching 5 2/3 innings in which he gave up five runs on eight hits (including a double and solo homer) with one walk and four strikeouts. De La Rosa threw 62 of his 97 pitches for strikes (64 percent) while getting a ton of mis-hits and groundballs (several of which became groundball singles). -- Center fielder Corey Brown wasn't initially in the lineup, but ended up playing the game when Andres Torres was a late scratch. He opened the top of the first with a leadoff homer, his first of two home runs on the day, giving the 28-year-old a dozen homers this season, including three in his last two games. Though he's hit for power, Brown has otherwise struggled, hitting .206 with a .275 OBP (along with a .413 slugging mark). -- Will Middlebrooks resumed his rehab assignment by going 1-for-3 with an opposite field triple to right. He served as DH on Tuesday, but will progress back to third base. At some point during the rehab assignment, the Sox hope to give Middlebrooks some time in left field. -- Mike Carp went 0-for-3 in the fourth game of his rehab assignment, and he's now 1-for-11 with three strikeouts since joining the PawSox. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-4 WIN AT TRENTON (YANKEES) (BOX) -- Left-hander Henry Owens wasn't dominant, but he worked through some traffic to limit his opponents to two runs on seven hits (six singles and a double) while walking two and punching out five to become the first 11-game winner in the minors this year. Moreover, the two runs that Trenton scored against him were the byproduct of a rally that started with back-to-back infield singles, so the bad contact and mis-hit groundballs that Owens elicited could have easily resulted in a far more impressive line. Indeed, one of the breakthroughs made by Owens this year has been his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Based on the data at the spectacular MLBFarm.com, here's the distribution of contact against Owens this year: Groundballs: 49.8 percent Flyballs: 25.8 percent Line drives: 13.3 percent Popups: 11.2 percent Here's how that compares with the type of hits he permitted last year: Groundballs: 42.0 percent Flyballs: 38.5 percent Popup: 10.4 percent Line drive: 9.1 percent So, Owens is trading flyball contact -- with the potential for outcomes like home runs -- for more and more groundballs that have helped to turn him into a more efficient pitcher. He came one out short on Tuesday of extending his streak of consecutive starts of at least six innings to seven; he *did* extend his streak of consecutive starts walking two or fewer batters to seven. After averaging 5 1/3 innings a start last year, he's averaging just over six innings a start this season. His strikeout rate is down slightly this year from its gaudy levels of a year ago (11.3 per nine innings), but he's still getting plenty of whiffs, as he has 9.2 per nine innings and leads the Eastern League with 100 punchouts. Meanwhile, his walk rate has gone down from 4.5 per nine innings to 3.6 per nine innings -- and to 2.3 per nine innings over his last seven starts. In short, whereas Owens showed the ability to get great strikeout rates and poor contact in the past, he's now still demonstrating those traits while also giving indications that he can figure out how to be a reliable source of innings. That combination is one that underscores the notion of the 21-year-old as a future linchpin of a big league rotation. -- Blake Swihart went 2-for-4 with a walk, bumping his batting average for the season back up to .300 with a .352 OBP and .482 slugging mark. The switch-hitter has now all but erased his left/right splits for the year, hitting .298/.343/.521 from lefties and .301/.358/.460 against righties. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-0 LOSS (5 INNINGS, RAIN-SHORTENED) AT FREDERICK (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Right-hander Joe Gunkel allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits (six singles and a double) in four innings of work in absorbing the first loss of his pro career. He's now 7-1 (including 4-1 this year) since the Sox tabbed him in the 18th round of the 2014 draft. The 22-year-old did strike out four and walked none, and he's now averaging 9.9 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine. -- Catcher Carson Blair, in his first game since June 23, picked up where he left off, going 1-for-2, a performance in line with a month of June in which the 24-year-old hit .471/.565/.725. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-2 LOSS VS. ASHEVILLE (ROCKIES) (BOX) -- Left-hander Trey Ball had his strongest outing of the second half, tossing five shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit (a double) while walking none and striking out three. The outing marked the seventh time in his 12 starts that the 2013 first-rounder has pitched at least five innings, and he was pitch efficient in doing so, throwing 47 of 73 pitches (64 percent) for strikes. Though he's still looking for his first win since April, iven that he'd allowed 19 runs in 18 1/3 innings over his prior four starts, Tuesday's effort marked an undeniable -- and considerable -- step in the right direction. -- Outfielder Forrestt Allday, who had been 2-for-30 entering the night, went 3-for-5. The 23-year-old is hitting .271 with a .369 OBP and .353 slugging mark in his first full pro season. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 11-5 WIN VS. CONNECTICUT (TIGERS) (BOX) -- Nick Longhi has a five-game hitting streak during which he is 9-for-19 after going 2-for-4 with a walk on Tuesday. The 18-year-old is hitting .358 with a .386 OBP and .472 slugging mark. -- Right-hander Chandler Shepherd, a 13th round selection out of Kentucky, punched out five while allowing one unearned run in two innings of work. He has yet to give up an earned run in five scoreless innings of work, punching out eight and walking one in his three games. -- Third baseman Jordan Betts continues to pile up RBIs, as he went 2-for-4 with a double and drove in three runs to give him 10 RBIs in 13 contests. The Duke product leads Lowell in the category. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 3-0 WIN VS. GCL ORIOLES (BOX) -- Left-hander Dedgar Jimenez threw five shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out a season-high four. It was the 18-year-old's second straight outing in which he threw five shutout frames, and he continues to get a ton of groundball contact, with seven groundouts on Tuesday. -- Right-hander Keivin Heras continues to throw strikes and put up zeros. He piggybacked Jimenez with three shutout innings, keeping his 0.00 ERA intact through three outings spanning nine innings in which he's punched out eight and walked one. -- Third baseman Victor Acosta went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, as the 18-year-old has carried his standout 2013 DSL season (in which he had eight homers and 20 extra-base hits -- almost unheard-of numbers for a 17-year-old in that league) to the States, with his strong wrists continuing to generate the bat speed for extra-base hits. Acosta has six extra-base hits (five doubles and a homer) through nine games -- tied for fifth most in the league. He's hitting .242 with a .375 OBP and .485 slugging mark to date. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 8-2 WIN VS. DSL REDS (BOX) -- Two days shy of his 17th birthday, right fielder Yoan Aybar went 2-for-3 with a double and a triple. It was his fifth multi-hit game in his last 10 contests, boosting his average to .300/.342/.420. Given his youth, frame (he's listed at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, with room to fill out) and athleticism, Aybar's early performance represents an intriguing prospect foundation. -- Third baseman Rafael Devers went 1-for-2 with a walk and a steal. The 17-year-old is now hitting .357 with a .456 OBP and .554 slugging mark, biding his time while waiting to get promoted to the GCL. -- DH Roldani Baldwin went deep for the second time in as many games. The 18-year-old is hitting .250/.295/.386.

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